What Parents Need to Know About Backyard Swimming Pool Safety
The pool at the Combs home in St. Louis looks safe—there's a fence, a gate with a lock, and life preservers. Yet last year, the family discovered that it wasn't enough to prevent a near tragedy. "We were extremely conscientious," says Barbara Combs. "My husband is an intensive care physician. I was a lifeguard and swam competitively, so we're both aware of water safety. We watched the kids. We locked the gate. Our family had rules about the pool."
Despite their precautions and attention to home swimming pool safety, 3-year-old Cindy wound up floating facedown in their pool. "A couple we knew had stopped by with their baby. We even moved the stroller closer so I could watch the kids swimming," Barbara says. "I must have taken my eyes off her for a moment when suddenly, my son, Shane, yelled, 'Cindy's in the pool without her tube!' "
Cindy's father began CPR immediately—and she survived. "She was blue and totally limp," Barbara recalls. "At the hospital, it took 24 hours to be certain there was no neurological damage. You see how thin the line is between life and death. And it happened because I was not really watching."
Every year, about 800 children younger than 14 die as a result of unintentional drowning in the United States; another 2,700 are treated in emergency rooms for nearly drowning. And a review by the National Safe Kids Campaign found that in 9 out of 10 cases, children drowned while under supervision, with 94% of parents saying they were watching their kids. The report revealed that parents were also chatting, reading, eating, dialing the phone, having an alcoholic drink, or closing their eyes to relax.
"Drowning happens swiftly and silently," says review coauthor Angela Mickalide, PhD. "Kids sink quickly. They take rapid breaths—not leaving enough oxygen to yell." Two minutes after submersion, a child loses consciousness, and within another 2 to 4 minutes, brain damage begins.[pagebreak]Keep kids swimming safely with this three-step plan:
Help 'em stay afloat. Nonswimmers and beginners should wear a personal flotation device (PFD) approved by the US Coast Guard (USCG) when in or near the water, says American Red Cross water safety expert Mike Espino. "It's not a substitute for supervision, but it could help a child keep her head up if she slips into the pool," he says.
Water wings, pool rings, and rafts are okay as toys only, meaning keep your eyes on the child who is playing with them. And don't rely on bathing suits with built-in flotation systems or non-USCG strap-on floats, he says.
Have a designated water watcher. Whenever kids swim, responsible adults or teens should take 20-minute shifts standing guard. That means no talking, eating, drinking, or playing with the kids while on duty.
"At my home, our water watchers wear a special tag so they won't be distracted," says Karen Thornhill, fitness and aquatics director of the YMCA in Flower Mound, TX, and a mother of two.
Sign kids up for swim class. The Red Cross recommends lessons beginning at age 4 or 5. Classes should include water safety tips.
Video: The Aqua-Net Swimming Pool Safety Net
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